'Idol' tune propels Houstonian from streets of Fifth Ward to Music City

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by Courtney Zubowski / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on September 20, 2011 at 5:08 PM

HOUSTON—Telling stories through music is a passion for one man who grew up in east Houston.

But Jay Smith’s own story is one of heartbreak and triumph.

The 31-year-old singer-songwriter is about to move to Nashville, where he’s destined to make it big.

"I got a record deal and a writing deal, two deals," Jay Smith beamed as he sat on a bench in a park near downtown.

Smith isn’t new to the music scene. You may have heard something he wrote. See, he’s the man behind American Idol superstar Scotty McCreery’s hit song, "I Love You This Big."

Smith wrote it for his son.

"I had a boy, he used to always tell me, ‘I love you this big,’ you know, ‘How much do you like your daddy,’ and I said, ‘I love you this big,’" Smith said as he put his arms out to his sides. "It hasn’t sunk in yet. I have the number one song on CMT right now. It’s crazy."

The song isn’t just big, it’s huge -- and so are the obstacles Smith has overcome.

"My mother died when I was 14, and four months later, my father died of a heart attack," said Smith.

There were 11 children in Smith’s family. Two died in a fire many years ago.

After his parents died, his brothers and sisters couldn’t take care of him. He ended up living on the streets in Houston’s Fifth Ward.

"There used to be train cars here and I would sleep in them, just hoping they didn’t bring me to another city when I woke up," Smith said as he walked along the train tracks near Waco and Glesby. "This place right here brings back a lot of memories."

 

To pass the time, Jay Smith decided to write songs. His first was a rap. That one rap led to hundreds of more songs.

"I’d write a song and then I would hear somebody in another part of the ‘hood rapping my song because someone else learned it and it was going around and I was like, ‘that’s pretty good,’ and then all the drug dealers on the corner, they would be rapping, actually making CDs, but I was better than them, but I didn’t want to rap for them because I didn’t want them to beat me up," Smith said.

At 15, police found Smith sleeping on a street corner. He was in violation of the city’s curfew ordinance, so he was placed in Child Protective Services. For the next two years, he went from foster home to foster home, but ended up back on the streets two years later.

"They just dropped me off here at the corner when I was 17. I said, ‘I didn’t know where to go,’" recalled Smith.

The teen spent the next year living in his car, but it was a visit to church that changed his life.

"That’s where I used to take showers, in the restrooms, and so one day I was coming out and Dennis Rogers, who I call ‘Pop,’ that’s my ‘Pop,’ he asked me come to stay with him for a couple of days and I said, ‘Yeah, I’m hanging out with The Strongman,’ I’ve seen him on TV and a year later I was still there," Smith said.

Dennis Rogers, who also lives in Houston, is considered to be pound-for-pound one of the strongest men in the world. He tours the globe performing his incredible feats. Rogers has been interviewed by celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman.

The Strongman introduced Smith to the right people.

"He opened up a lot of doors for me," said Smith.

Smith just signed a deal with Average Joe and plans to head to Nashville very soon. His wife is already decorating their new house.

"There’s no way nothing I’ve done in my life added up to where I am now," he said.

The songwriter said he has no regrets. He knows he’s made his parents proud by following his dreams.

"They’re seeing me right now, yeah they’re seeing me now," he said.

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